A Mid-Winter Solstice Dream

by Rhonda Eudaly (reudaly@excite.com)

Fandom: Xena/Charles Dickens (sort of)

Rating: G - a whole lot of nothin'

Disclaimers: Don't own 'em, don't own anything, don't sue me. Literary purists - don't shoot me.

A Mid-Winter Solstice Dream
By Rhonda Eudaly

Gabrielle sat alone in a corner near the fire in the only inn in the village at the foot of Mount Aetna. She had come back here with Xena and Eve to honor the memory of the dead. Now both Gabrielle and Eve's lives were saved, thanks to the sacrifice of Ares, and the almost total destruction of the gods. She didn't hear Xena come in, nor did she notice her standing nearby watching her. Xena's expression was worried. Call it instinct, or mother's intuition, or just plain good eyesight, the warrior princess could see Gabrielle's pain. The warrior bard mourned Joxer's passing bitterly.

"Gabrielle?" Xena asked softly, finally approaching her friend. She didn't look up from the fire, so Xena continued. "The repairs on the house are going well. We should have it done by Spring. Eve and I are about out of nails, though, and we need some other things. We're going shopping, should only be gone a couple of days. Why don't you come with us? You haven't left the inn in days."

"No, thanks. If you don't mind, I just want to be alone for a while."

"Gabrielle, you've been alone too much already. Come on. Come with us. The change in scenery will do you good. Get away from all of this." Xena all but pleaded.

"That's all I've been doing, Xena!" Gabrielle retorted, fighting back tears. Xena took a step back from the obviously still raw emotion. "I've been running from it. Getting away from it. It's time I faced it. Joxer's dead. He's not coming back this time. And I never..."

Xena knelt beside her friend. "Did you love him?"

"Yes...no...I don't know," Gabrielle admitted. "I do know I have regrets about him."

"Thinking maybe...just once..."

"Maybe...you never saw him at Meg's, did you?"

"No. Why?"

"I don't know if I ever told you, but Meg's girls...they loved him, and it wasn't a pity thing. Or even a brotherly thing. I even heard a girl or two saying they'd work for free for him."

"Thinking you might've missed something?"

"Yeah, I do," Gabrielle told her. "And until I come to terms with that...whatever that was, I'm not leaving."

"All right," Xena sighed. "We should only be gone a few days. Eve and I will be back in time for Solstice dinner. Will you be all right?"

"I'll be fine. I'll see you when you get back."'

Xena had no choice but to leave her there. Gabrielle didn't say anything further; she merely went back to staring into the fire. Suddenly a sharp, recurring, metallic sound jerked her back to awareness. She automatically reached for her sais and belatedly remembered she'd left them in her room. She looked around for the source of the sound, but found the room empty, and the candle burnt down. She must've fallen asleep, but now she needed to find what had awakened her.

"Who's there?" she called out.

The response was a metallic crash followed by an all too familiar, "OW!"

"Joxer?" Gabrielle called out, suddenly alert and looking around for someone who couldn't possibly be there.

And yet, somehow, he was. Joxer slowly descended from the ceiling to hover about a foot off the floor. Ceiling? Hovering? Gabrielle blinked and rubbed her eyes. He floated closer to her, never quite hitting the ground, except for the chains that fell below his feet and rattled against the floor. Until one end of the chain snagged on a table leg and he went sprawling flat at her feet.

"Joxer?" she asked again, though there was no mistaking him now.

"Uh, yeah, hi," he said sheepishly, getting to his feet, then he caught himself. "No, actually...bwa ha ha ha. Ooooo. Ooooo. Rattle the chains, and rattle the chains, and BOO!"

"What are you doing?" she asked, with a withering look.

"Following the script. I'm supposed to do all that. It's in the manual."

"Manual? What are you talking about? Aren't you...aren't you...?"

"Dead?" Joxer finished. "Yep. I'm dead, deceased, living challenged. I have kicked the bucket, bought the farm, and paid the piper - and let me tell you - it wasn't cheap."

Gabrielle couldn't believe what she was hearing.

"What wasn't?"

"Paying the piper. You wouldn't BELIEVE what he charges."

Gabrielle couldn't believe what she was hearing - or seeing. It looked like Joxer. It sounded like Joxer, but it really couldn't BE Joxer. "What are...why are you here? Shouldn't you be in the Elysian Fields or something?"

"You'd think so, wouldn't you? Hey, you think I should be in the Elysian Fields? Thanks. But no, ever since Hades died, everything in the Underworld has changed. I've got a new job now. You."

"Me?" Gabrielle squeaked. She controlled herself and her voice quickly. "How can I be your new job."

"I'm here to haunt you," Joxer announced proudly. Then he asked quickly, "Did I scare you with that entrance?"

"Not really. Were you supposed to?"

"It's in the manual."

"There's a manual?"

"There is now." Joxer fumbled in his clothes. "I have it here somewhere...if you'd like to...see..."

"No, that's okay, I believe you. But I still don't understand why you're here."

"Ah...here it is," Joxer said, coming up with a scroll. "It's all here." He unrolled the beginning of the scroll and cleared his throat to read dramatically. "Gabrielle...you are a crossroads in your life! You are about to take a wrong turn that could lead to the destruction of your immortal soul! This pit of despair and guilt you are mired in will lead to this end! Beware the darkness that looms..."

"Cut it out, Joxer," Gabrielle interrupted, snapping at him.

Joxer looked up from his scroll with a hurt expression. "Geez, Gabby, give me a break, will ya? Let me finish this, okay? Look, eternity is nice and all, but it goes on FOREVER. This is like the only cool thing I have scheduled to do for the next, I don't know, FIFTY years. Can I go on, please?"

Gabrielle didn't have the heart to disappoint him again. "Okay. Go on."

Joxer picked up his scroll and scanned it, muttering phrases of it to himself. Then he let it roll up and leaned in toward her. "Look, Gabby, can we talk?"

"Okay," she answered hesitantly.

Joxer put his chin on his fist, crossed his legs, and looked her in the eyes. Both realized in the same instant, he didn't have a chair. He was levitating. With the realization, he crashed to the floor in a heap, once more at her feet. "Haven't quite got the levitation thing down. They teach that in the intermediate classes." He straightened himself up and looked once more into her beautiful, troubled green eyes. "Look, Gabby, the guys upstairs, they... well, they're concerned about you."


"They see you heading into a darkness even Xena would've thought twice about at her worst. You could lose everything, and I do mean EVERYTHING, if you're not careful and get back on track."

"I'm all right!" she protested yet once again.

"If you're so all right," Joxer persisted, "Then why are you sitting here talking to a dead guy while Xena is on the road with Eve? Time was you wouldn't have left her for anything."

"I know, but it's been such a long year, and I'm so tired..." Gabrielle said lamely. "So much has happened...so much has been lost. So many people have died."

"Well surely you're not wallowing in this pit of mourning over ME," Joxer snorted. "You didn't seem to care all that much about me when I was alive."

"JOXER!" Gabrielle gasped in shock and horror. "How can you say that?" Joxer gave her a pointed look. She had the good grace to look embarrassed. "Okay, okay, I can see HOW you could say that, but WHY would you say that?"

"Being truly dead gives you a whole new perspective, let me tell you. But we're talking about you, not me. Look, this crossroads thing isn't a joke. This could really screw up not only your life, but your Afterlife, too."

"I can handle Tartarus."

"Yeah, well, Tartarus was a picnic compared to what's being cooked up by the management. The stuff you and Xena went through with Michael and Callisto after your crucifixion is just the appetizer. Trust me, I've seen. Not been, but seen. You don't want to have anything to do with it."

"How did you...?" Gabrielle asked, astounded. She didn't think Xena would've told him about what happened then, and she knew she hadn't.

"Dead people know all kinds of secrets. We just don't tell tales. Well, except the bards, and then only to other dead people - but I digress. Okay, let me tell you how this is going to work. You're going to be visited tonight by three ghosts. They'll show you what you need to know to make your decision. It's still totally up to you, which way to go."

"You're not one of them?" she asked hopefully.

"I'm flattered, but no. I'm just the messenger. The guys they have coming are the big guys. They've been doing this a very long time. You'll be fine. And if you need me, I'll always be there for you. Count on it."

As she watched, Joxer got up and glided to the wall. With one last look and a salute, he turned and took a decisive step and smacked into the wall. "OW!" He rubbed his nose and looked skyward. "Come on! I did that right!" With a muttered grumble, the annoyed spirit left by the door. Gabrielle watched him with a sad smile and nodded off to sleep, unable to keep her eyes open a second longer.

A flash of light and noise brought her out of a sound sleep she hadn't realized she'd fallen into. "What? What time is it?" she muttered to herself, rubbing her neck, and mentally cursing herself for still being in the chair.

"Gabrielle?" a soft voice asked from the shadows.

Gabrielle sat up straighter. The voice was familiar, but she hadn't heard it for a long time. "Perdicas?"

The figure came into the light. Gabrielle recoiled in spite of herself. Perdicas approached. She didn't want to face her late husband, dead so shortly after their marriage. It couldn't be him. No matter what, he was in the Elysian Fields, he couldn't be here. And there was something about the figure that said it wasn't him.

"Who are you?"

"I'm the Ghost of Solstice Past," the spirit replied. "I've taken the form of someone familiar to you so as not to frighten you."

"Needs work," Gabrielle muttered. "So what happens now?"

"Come with me and see," the shade of Perdicas said, holding out his hand.

Gabrielle had no other choice but to obey. Once their hands touched, the inn disappeared. She gripped Perdicas' hand tighter. They were suddenly in a forest. Gone was the twang of mountain air. She now detected sweeter, warmer smells, even that of wood smoke and roasting meat. Where ever she was, it wasn't Mt. Aetna.

"Where are we?" Gabrielle asked. "How did we get here?"

"That's not as important as if you recognize this place," Perdicas told her.

Gabrielle took a couple of steps away from him. There was something hauntingly familiar about the place. She dropped, instinctively, into a defensive position as two young girls burst through the trees. Gabrielle straightened up, embarrassed to have taken the girls' shrieks as danger, and found herself drawn to them.

The two girls ignored Gabrielle as she approached and never even seemed to notice Perdicas. She thought it odd they hadn't reacted to the presence of adults, especially warriors. Any child she knew would have at least been suspicious, if not terrified, after having weapons nearly drawn on them. It was like they couldn't see her - them. The thought clicked, and she asked the question of Perdicas.

"No," he replied. "In this time and place, no one can see or hear us."

"Lila!" the little blond girl squealed. "Wait for me!"

"You better hurry, Gabby, or you'll miss Solstice dinner!"

"Wait, that's me!" Gabrielle said, finally recognizing the children and the forest. "This is Poteidia!"

Without knowing why or how, Gabrielle found herself drawn after the two girls. Perdicas came with her. She found herself on the edge of her family's holding, recognizing the house and the barn. She was home, but home as it was, not as she last saw it.

"Is this Illusia?" she breathed, trying to find some logical sense of the whole thing.

"No," he answered. "You are the illusion here."

Gabrielle didn't like that answer. She closed her eyes and let herself remember the smells and memories associated with the place. She felt a change. When she opened her eyes, they were standing in the corner of the house's main room.

The children were older now by a few years. Her mother and father were putting the finishing touches on a veritable feast. There was something going on between the two girls. Gabrielle went over to them, remembering. "I'm about to give Lila my solstice gift. A doll."

The small blond child proceeded to do just that.


Gabrielle looked at the spirit she'd once been married to. "I'm not sure I remember why, maybe I was mean to her, all I remember is that it made her happy."

"Come on, it's time to go."


The spirit didn't answer. He merely took her on a whirlwind tour of other Solstice celebrations. They lingered over a couple of scenes where there were only herself, Xena, and a campfire. Gabrielle remembered those years fondly.

"Why are you showing me all of this, Perdicas?" she asked, a catch in her voice. There had been some really good times.

"Just reminding you of what you've left behind," Perdicas answered.

"I left a lot more than that behind," she muttered. "I...you didn't show me any of..."

"The time you were in the ice cave is lost to you."

"That's the point," Gabrielle muttered. Perdicas didn't answer. Suddenly she was back in the inn. "So much time lost..." but she was alone. Perdicas was gone. She sighed heavily and flopped down in the chair. She nodded off to sleep almost at once.

Gabrielle was pulled out of sleep before she knew she was totally asleep. A bright flash of light and a touch on her shoulder brought her upright. "Wha...?! Xena?"

"Gabrielle." The familiar voice had some other worldly quality to it.

Gabrielle studied her a moment. "Xena? What are you doing back? I thought you were going to be gone..."

"Gabrielle..." the figure repeated.

"You're not really Xena are you?"

"I am the Ghost of Solstice Present."

"Somehow I thought so. Okay, let's go," Gabrielle said with a sigh.

The spirit led her out of the inn. They were immediately far away. Gabrielle looked around the room. They were in modest but well taken care of house. She was a little surprised to see Virgil come past. "Virgil?" He continued past without acknowledging Gabrielle.

She turned to the spirit. "Let me guess, can't see or hear me."


Gabrielle nodded and went after Virgil. He had gone into the kitchen. Meg was making dinner. She looked older and more worn than Gabrielle remembered, but it had been a tough year for her as well. Even more so - not only had her life been turned upside down by Gabrielle's return, but she'd also lost her husband.

"What are they doing?"


Gabrielle glared over her shoulder. This spirit may look like her dearest friend, but she spoke even less than the real Xena. The spirit didn't seem to really care or even notice the warrior bard's reaction. She didn't have any further choice but to watch.

Virgil made Meg look at him. There were tears on her cheeks. He smiled down on her, fighting his own tears. "You should've let me take care of this, Mother."

"No," Meg replied. "This is the one thing your father really loved about me. It's the one good thing..."

"Not the ONE good thing, Mother. A good thing," Virgil said tenderly. "You made me, too."

Mother and son clung together a moment, then she pulled away. "I gotta get back to my sauce. Can't let it burn. It was your father's favorite, you know."

"Yes, Mother, I know. I miss him, too."

Gabrielle felt emotion choke in her throat. Meg wouldn't have been her first choice of a wife for Joxer. In fact, she kept herself from thinking about it all that much. It was hard to imagine Joxer with any woman, not after...well, she'd had her chance over twenty years ago, and had pushed him away at every turn. This whole scene had been her doing, in a way. Her heart wrenched, and she turned away with a sob in her throat.

And saw a new scene. A campsite not far from the village in the mountains. Even though the dark and the cold held no power over her, Gabrielle found herself drawn to the fire, where, wrapped in coats, Xena and Eve sat together. Gabrielle strained to hear their conversation, but they weren't speaking. Xena was singing softly, and Eve hung on every word and note. It was a tender Mother/Daughter moment that very nearly broke Gabrielle's heart.

"They don't need me. Nobody does any more," she moaned.

"Keep watching," the spirit intoned.

Gabrielle didn't want to, but she did. Xena's song ended. Eve shook off the spell after a moment. "I wish Gabrielle was here with us." She even sounded a bit wistful.

Xena hugged her daughter close to her. "I know. I know. I thought we'd be back before now. I don't like leaving her alone on Solstice Eve."

"Do you think she'll ever really forgive me?"

"For what?" Xena asked.

"For killing Joxer."

Xena sat up, breaking her embrace. Eve immediately took it to mean her mother hadn't ever forgiven her either. Eve was wrong. Gabrielle watched the scene, fascinated. "What makes you think Gabrielle hasn't forgiven you?"

"She loved him. I killed him. I wouldn't forgive me if I were her," Eve said bitterly.

Gabrielle didn't bother to fight the tears which welled up in her eyes or the lump in her throat. She pressed her fingertips to her lips and continued to watch. She all but forgot the spirit hovering behind her.

Xena made Eve look at her. "Eve, listen to me and listen good. You have to let this go. You can not let yourself be consumed by guilt on this. You've got to move past this or it will eat you alive. I know we've not had many mother/daughter moments, but I know what I'm talking about here. You have the potential for tremendous light or tremendous darkness. IF you let this one incident fester, the darkness will take hold until it overwhelms you. I know, it happened to me."

"How did you get past it?"

"I had help. Hercules for one. Then Gabrielle came into my life. She dragged me kicking and screaming into the light. Then there was Joxer, and then you. Don't make my mistakes."

"How do I...?"

"Listen to your mother, and to Gabrielle. She is the best thing that could happen to old warrior women like us."

"Who're you calling old, MOM."

Gabrielle couldn't see through the tears. She unconsciously went to put her arms around her dearest friend, and passed through her. It reawakened her to the situation, but she still said, "I love you, too, Xena."

"We have to go," the spirit told her.

Gabrielle turned away from the fire and walked into the night with the spirit, and found herself back in the inn. She was alone and dropped, exhausted, into the chair. She stared numbly into the fire and must've fallen asleep. A bright light brought her blinkingly back to reality.

She was instantly on her feet as the light was totally absorbed by a black robed figure. It was so deeply cowled, Gabrielle couldn't make out a single feature. It didn't speak or move. It simply waited expectantly for her to make a move.

"Are you the third spirit?"

The cowl seemed to nod, or possibly it could have been the play of shadows on the dark fabric.

"If I've seen the past and the present, are you to show me the future?"

The spirit gave her another of its pseudo-nods. It gestured with a sleeve for her to come with it. Gabrielle went along obediently, and almost immediately regretted it.

Xena stood on the edge of a steep cliff, as a low mournful song ripped from her throat and scattered to the winds. Her hair whipped around her face, but Gabrielle could see the tears and the utterly shattered look on Xena's face.

"What is it?" Gabrielle demanded of the silent spirit. She knew both the expression and the song. "Who died?"

The spirit didn't answer, just gestured to the cliff. Gabrielle couldn't bear to turn back, but knew she had to.

"By the gods, please, not Eve," Gabrielle whispered. "Xena can't handle losing another child." Then Gabrielle's world rocked as Eve came from behind her and went to Xena. "Eve?"

Eve went to her mother and put a blanket around her shoulders. "Come on, Mother, you need to eat."

"Not hungry."

"Standing here starving to death isn't going to bring her back. Nor is dying of exposure. She wouldn't want you to do that. Come on."

Gabrielle went to Xena but couldn't touch her. Her hand went through Xena's arm. Xena shuddered. Eve looked at her in concern. "What? What is it?"

"Nothing. I just thought...we both thought we'd be together for eternity..I can't believe she's gone. Really gone this time. There's no getting her back this time. It's like the best part of my soul is missing."

"At least we still have each other."

Gabrielle followed them, the ache in her heart gripped her like a vice. She had a horrible feeling she knew who was dead - intimately. She followed them back to camp. The horses were tethered on the farthest side of the clearing from the funeral pyre. She stopped stock still when she saw her horse draped in black and her weapons and scrolls stacked in a memorial pile.

"I'm dead?" Gabrielle asked slowly. "Really and truly dead?"

The spirit nudged her forward. Gabrielle stumbled to the campfire, just in time to hear Xena say, "...that's why you can't let guilt take hold, Eve. Why you have to accept everything that happens to you."

"This stems back to Joxer, doesn't it?"

Xena nodded slowly. "She never accepted much of what's happened in the last few years. It made her take unnecessary risks. When you do that...the inevitable is THAT."

They all looked to the smouldering pyre.

"I wish I could've done something," Eve murmured.

"You can, Eve," Xena insisted. "Learn from her. From me. Don't make our mistakes."

Gabrielle fell to her knees beside Xena and wept bitterly. "I'm sorry," she repeated over and over. Finally , the spirit touched her shoulder. When Gabrielle looked up, she was kneeling beside the hearth in the inn. She looked up at the still cowled figure.

"Is that was WILL happen, or what COULD happen?" she demanded.

The spirit reached for the hood. "That's up to you." The hood lowered to reveal her own face. Gabrielle recoiled in horror.


"Only in the emotional sense," the spirit replied. "This face is yours, and so is that future, if you don't take heed."

"I will! I will!" Gabrielle said fervently. "I can't leave her like that."

"Then take heed of what you've seen and heard. If you should waver, then heed the words of a friend."

"That's me!"

Gabrielle whirled. Joxer came out of the shadows, this time without his chains. He glided toward her, not touching the ground. He noticed her bemused look. He shrugged. "I've been practicing."

"Where's your chain?"

"What? Oh, that. That's just a prop, part of the script. Supposed to make a point."

"You're back?"

"Only if you need me. And to give you the occasional reminder, but I think you're going to be okay now."

"I hope you're right, Joxer."

"Wow, that's not something I've heard...in a very long time."

"Don't ever change, Joxer," Gabrielle said with a smile.

"I don't think I can now, and you should smile more," he told her. "You're beautiful when you smile. By the way, you have company."

Gabrielle turned to see Xena and Eve come through the door, knocking snow off their boots. "You're back!"

Xena looked up with a grimace. "Sudden snow storm. Came out of nowhere, we had to turn back." She studied Gabrielle a moment. "You okay?"

Gabrielle looked at Joxer. He grinned rakishly and winked. She looked at Xena. "I'm fine. Now. I'll explain everything later. Let's get you guys out of those wet things before you catch cold."

Joxer watched the little family unit, knowing they'd be all right. He'd be there to watch over them. "Happy Solstice to all and to all a good night."